Fault in the systemIt is time to review and improve the assistance provided by the government to support disabled citizens
Despite the government’s good intentions in funding the disability allowance in Nepal, it remains a problematic cash transfer that can be seen to perpetuate injustices for those with disabilities. If the government chooses to give a disability allowance, even with the limited resources it has, then it should be transparent, equitable and accountable. Weak governance along with Nepal’s politics and discrimination has rendered Nepal’s disability allowance a token charity gesture.
Still, it is commendable that Nepal provides disabled citizens with an allowance when many other countries with higher incomes do not. Nepal’s adoption of other social protection allowances has also been progressive. In 1994, Nepal’s first communist government, under CPN-UML, had introduced Asia’s first universal non-contributory, non-means tested, senior citizen allowance for all citizens over 75 years. The disability allowance was initiated shortly after this and offered Rs 125 per month.
An unfair mechanism
The distribution of disability allowance, nonetheless, is far from ideal. The first injustice associated with the disability allowance is, in 2012, the Supreme Court issued a mandamus for the government to provide Rs 500-3,000 per month to partially disabled people who currently receive Rs 300 per month and Rs 3,000-5,000 to fully disabled people who currently receive Rs 1,000 per month. But this is yet to be implemented. And it is not just affordability that prevents this increase; the Nepal government struggles to spend the money it has or receives from the donors.
The second injustice is that the partial disability allowance has a fixed quota based on population size and not the number of disabled people. Additionally, new citizens find it difficult to be added on to this allowance list, even if someone who currently receives the allowance dies.
According to 2011 figures, there are 513,321 citizens with a disability in Nepal. Yet, in 2013/14 only 25,492 citizens received the full disability allowance and 6,863 received the partial allowance. This leaves 480,966 disabled people without assistance. This is the third injustice.
The fourth injustice is that registering for the disability allowance costs more than registering for other allowances. Those with a disability must travel to the district headquarters to register, whereas other cash transfers such as the old age allowance, single women’s allowance, and child grant can all be registered with the Village Development Committee (VDC) Secretary. Many disabled citizens require support when travelling and may need to visit the district headquarter more than once. Thus, the cost of registering can be as high as Rs 1,500 including travel costs. The bureaucratic reason behind this arrangement is that the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSC) which manages the disability allowance only has an office in the district headquarter, whereas the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development manages other cash transfers and so the VDC can register those applicants.
Often, the VDC Secretary is uninformed on which types of disabilities can receive the allowance and tells everyone with a disability to go and register at the district headquarters. All those who register receive a card, but only a red card entitles the bearer to the full allowance and the blue card entitles the bearer to the partial allowance. Applicants then take their cards back to the VDC Secretary and if they carry a white or yellow card, the VDC Secretary informs them that they are not eligible. This brings considerable frustration to a number of disabled citizens who have spent money and time travelling to the district headquarters with the belief that they will be eligible for the disability allowance. This is the fifth injustice.
The sixth injustice is that receiving the full allowance may also depend upon who you know and not the level of disability. There have been instances of those with yellow cards securing red cards after appealing to their well connected neighbours.
The seventh injustice is that arbitrary decisions are made (or bought) on which color card people will be given. MoWCSW officers have not been trained in identifying different types of disabilities, and even though doctors can be used to conduct an assessment, there are very few disability testing facilities available locally. In one instance, the doctor’s assessment report of a man deemed him ‘differently-abled’. Yet, he was given a white card, and thus denied any disability allowance.
The eighth injustice is that despite the cost a disabled person endures in registering at the district headquarters, the government does not utilise this information to form policy or plan decisions. MoWCSW records the number and type of identity cards allocated and sends this information to Kathmandu. The Social Welfare Ministry could only provide me with information from 32 districts (out of 75) and eight of these 32 districts had incomplete records.
Time for review
Providing a disability allowance will help to alleviate poverty. In Nepal like in many other countries, families and communities support needy individuals. The economic hardship faced by a disabled person affects the entire family—at least one family member will not be able to work as they have to care for person with disability. And though caring is also a job, it is usually unpaid, unrecognised and under-valued.
One of the arguments against a disability allowance is that it will not lead to economic growth, because those who are disabled cannot be as productive as other citizens and are, therefore, not a good return on investment. However, a post-conflict inclusive Nepal should value all citizens and social groups and not just the rich.
There are different types and levels of disability. Some, more than others, require financial assistance in recognition of hardship and to alleviate poverty. There were a number of partially disabled citizens we met during the research who would have preferred a job to an allowance. But due to scarcity of jobs, these less-abled people struggle to find work. So, the government could incentivise employers to hire disabled citizens with tax breaks or other measures that would support Nepal’s disabled citizens to secure employment. It is time to review and improve the assistance provided by the government to support disabled citizens.
Nepal’s disability allowance hides discriminatory attitudes. Governance and implementation arrangements surrounding Nepal’s disability allowance, however, turn good intentions into a flawed and inequitable mechanism. The government can fix the above mentioned injustices and do more to help Nepal’s disabled citizens. But what prevents this from occurring are politicians with other priorities. The newly passed constitution guarantees the right to social security for the disabled, among other social groups. What the government needs to do now is ensure that this is done equitably, accountably and transparently.
Drucza is a PhD candidate at Deakin University in Australia